How To Start As a Freelance White Paper Writer – 7 Tips

by Anne Wayman

Ivan Walsh, a freelance white paper writer based in Ireland.

A guest post by Ivan Walsh, the Ireland based writer who blogs at Business Writing Tips + Tools.

White paper writing can be a very lucrative field for self-motivated freelance writers. I got into white paper writing by accident. Here’s what happened.

In 1997, I was working as a freelance Technical Writer in Sacramento. We’d just completed the user guides and other technical documents.

The plan was finish the project by helping the Marketing team with their white papers and other marketing collateral. They’d hired a white paper writer… but, as luck would have it, he never showed up.

They asked me if I’d write them instead! And that’s how I got started. There was no plan to be a white paper writer but, looking back, it was a very lucky break.

Since then, I’ve written white papers for Intel, IBM and Agilewords among others. If you’re thinking about moving into this field, the following tips may help.

How To Start As a Freelance White Paper Writer

Getting Started. Most companies don’t go out looking for white paper writers. This task is usually delegated to one of the engineering team (if it’s technical) or the marketing group (if they want to put a sales angle on it).

What this means is that you may need to contact both departments to land your first white paper contract. Another tactic that works is to look for ways to help the Technical Writing department and then suggest you can help with marketing documents. When they say, “How would that work…,” have your pitch ready.

Find an angle. White papers are sales documents written with a technical slant. To write them effectively you need good (though not expert) technical skills but, more importantly, an appreciation of where they fit into the sales cycle.

White papers are pre-sales documents. You write them to generate leads and establish credibility. So, when pitching, make sure to highlight these points. “If we can generate ten qualified leads with one white paper, then…”

Develop a portfolio. Most clients will want to see sample work before hiring you. If you’ve never written a white paper before, this creates a Catch 22.

One way to get around this is to contact non-profits or small IT companies and offer your writing services for free. The only condition is that you’re given credit as the author. It’s also a nice way to learn the art of white paper writing before landing a high-profile client. You don’t want to be learning on the job.

Get recommendations. Social proof is very important; ask everyone you’ve worked with for recommendations, endorsements, and other quotes that ‘big you up’.

Endorsements reduce anxiety in prospective customers and make them feel more comfortable about hiring you. Look at how best-selling authors use endorsements and apply these concepts to your blog and marketing kit.

Make friends in Marketing. Even though your white paper is technically-orientated, it’s the Marketing Dept that will hire you, not Software Development. So, make friends here, cultivate relationships, share white paper samples from competitors and make yourself available.

Network. Until you’re established, you’ll have to find leads and then build up a regular list client. Getting started is the hard part for most freelancers. If you struggle to do promote yourself offline (most writers do), then use Social Media networks, such as LinkedIn to demonstrate your expertise.

Find LinkedIn groups where you can ask – and then answer – questions about white papers. Your goal is to make it known that you’re the white paper guy. It won’t happen over-night, but after a while you’ll get your first project!

Practice. Writing white papers requires a different mindset than, for example, technical documents or direct mail. You need to grasp: who’s your target reader; why they’ve downloaded your document; what action you want them to take next. Bob Bly and Michael Stelzner have both published excellent books that are worth the investment.

Summary

There are several advantages to becoming a white paper writer.

The field is relatively under-served, especially at a local level. The rates are significantly higher than for most technical writers and, trends suggest, that the demand for white papers is still growing.

Over to you.

Have you tried to write a white paper? What area did you find most difficult?

About the Author: Ivan Walsh is a freelance white paper writer based in Ireland. If you’d like to learn more, please read his article 10 Ways to Write B2B White Papers That Generate Leads

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

white paper listing December 7, 2016 at 8:37 pm

Great article! But wring a white paper is just half job done.

Proper promotion of your white paper is the key to your white paper performing at its best and helping you generate leads. If your white paper is promoted properly, it will get more exposure and more people will read it. The more the number of people who read your white paper, the more leads
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Sam writerr October 29, 2016 at 10:11 pm

Hi Ivan,
I have actually stumbled on this paper when I was almost giving up. I started my own white paper writing company, exclusive for white papers. And I agree with you that getting that one client is a pain. I am still pitching, hoping to land a gig soon. I have also done my research, there are very few white paper writers out there, it even scares me.
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Anne Wayman November 3, 2016 at 10:48 am

Thanks Sam.

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Margy Rockwood October 25, 2016 at 7:07 am

Ivan, in your experience, it is unimportant, very helpful or absolutely necessary that a white paper writer know how to post the paper, with graphics, on a website?

Margy

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Anne Wayman October 27, 2016 at 9:17 am

Couldn’t hurt, for sure.

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Astro Gremlin November 4, 2011 at 1:01 am

Writing white papers is a specialized niche I’ve never tried. Appreciate the introduction, Ivan.
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Ivan Walsh November 5, 2011 at 5:51 pm

Thanks Astro,

I feel into it by accident but it’s been very good to me so far. Proposal writing is another very lucrative area.
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Anne November 7, 2011 at 2:40 pm

lol, Ivan, if you want to do a guest post on proposal writing please do so.

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Joni November 3, 2011 at 9:20 pm

This was interesting. The only white papers I have ever read are medical. I get a subscription from John Hopkins and it is a notebook-sized booklet with complete explanations of different medical illnesses. For example, one was all about Degenerative Disc Disease. It is about 40 pages long. I have been considering trying to write some but have not had time to research where to find the work.

I was a Rehabilitation Counselor for people with disabilities so I am knowledgeable in most mental and physical illnesses. However, the white papers described in this blog sound completely different from the ones I have seen. Has anyone had experience writing medical white papers?

Thanks,
Joni
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Ivan Walsh November 5, 2011 at 5:52 pm

You’re right Joni in that the target readers – and purpose – are very different.
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Christiane Marshall November 3, 2011 at 12:13 pm

Yes! The hardest part was finding someone to let me do one for free! I finally just told a client I was writing a white paper for them (no charge), without asking! I had already done the research for other writing projects I was doing for them. All that was left was to actually put it all together! Christiane

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Helenee November 3, 2011 at 2:30 pm

I’d do that too.

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Anne November 4, 2011 at 2:11 pm

That’s one approach for sure… do you expect it to lead to more work for you?

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Ivan Walsh November 5, 2011 at 5:55 pm

Hi Anne,

One area where I see a lot of appetite is in the cloud computing industry.
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Ivan Walsh November 5, 2011 at 5:54 pm

Hi Christiane,

Startups are worth contacting as they want publicity and also need someone to beef up their marketing arsenal.

Ivan
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Ivan Walsh November 3, 2011 at 11:40 am

Thanks Ann,

White papers have been very good to me. Glad to share what I’ve learned.

Ivan
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